A tactical masterstroke from the TF Sport team ensured that Jonathan Adam began his defence of the British GT title in the best possible fashion, after he and Derek Johnston triumphed in a turbulent season-opener at Brands Hatch.
While the result boils down to another Aston Martin victory at Brands Hatch, and a second British GT championship race win in a row for Tom Ferrier’s TF operation, on pure pace it could so easily have been a different result.
Bentley returned to British GT in Kent after a year away. And Rick Parfitt Jr and Seb Morris very nearly blew the competition away, but some controversy and plain bad luck ruined their party.
The Continental GT3 may not be the daintiest machine on the grid, but its combination of strong aerodynamics and outright grunt made it a formidable prospect on the fast sweeps of Brands.
AMR’S Vantage GT3 has always excelled on the GP extension, but the Bentley bettered it in the speed traps. Team Parker Racing’s factory partnership with Bentley meant its Continental was delivered along with a helpful stack of set-up data on the Pirelli tyres, on which the car did almost all of its development over the last two years in the Blancpain GT Series. The team estimated 5000 miles of testing had been done with ‘Geoffrey’ pre-season.
Parfitt topped the Amateur driver section of qualifying by a comfortable margin for provisional pole. His pace was backed up by Morris, who banged in the quickest time of the Pro segment on his first flying lap.
“We didn’t expect that at all,” said Parfitt after pole was secured. “We knew the Bentley would be good, but we didn’t expect it here as it’s an Aston track. The Bentley tends to spin its wheels in the slow stuff due to its power, but we got the set-up bang on for this one. Seb has also taught me to rely more on the aero of the car, and that’s done wonders for my confidence through the quick stuff.”
Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen’s new Barwell Lamborghini started second, ahead of Johnston and Adam.
Pace in qualifying is one thing, but to back it up in the race is quite another. But Parfitt and Morris looked every inch like winners during the early stages as Parfitt roared into an early lead. His cause was helped when Minshaw was clipped by a GT4 car and pitted with a puncture and suspension damage, leaving Parfitt well clear of Johnston’s Aston. Johnston complained of a lack of grip from his tyres mid-stint, which allowed Liam Griffin in the second Huracan to slip past. But neither could live with the pace of Parfitt, until the race was turned on its head after 40 minutes.
Phil Dryburgh was at the wheel of the Motorbase Aston when he was involved in an incident with the GT4 Ginetta of Nick Jones and the GT4 Aston of Matthew Graham at Pilgrims Drop. Dryburgh’s Aston was tipped onto the grass before it dug in and rolled across the barrier ( see Racing News). The race was immediately neutralised using the new Code 80 rule, which limits cars to 80km/h (50mph) at all times instead of using a safety car.
Parfitt was 14 seconds up the road when the caution was called. When the pit window opened 10 minutes later, he was just over one second ahead.
“I don’t know how that worked,” he said, bemused. “I thought everybody was supposed to run at the same speed, but clearly that hasn’t happened.”
The majority of cars opted to dive into the pits during the Code 80, leading to a crammed pitlane as soon as the window opened after 50 minutes. The Bentley was further impeded when the Ebor GT Maserati blocked access to its fuel rig. The race-long leaders found themselves back in fourth once Morris rejoined.
TF Sport didn’t pit, opting to leave Johnston out for a few extra laps before stopping right before the end of the caution.
“We were always going to run Derek’s car a bit longer to avoid queuing both cars for fuel, but it turned out to be the perfect strategy,” said Ferrier. “The race came to us nicely from there on.”
Johnston handed over to Adam, and the reigning champion rejoined at the head of the pack with a handful of seconds over Fabio Babini, who had taken over the Lambo from Griffin, and Joe Osborne in the AMD BMW Z4 that Lee Mowle had ably ghosted up the order in the first stint.
Osborne dived past Babini early on after the restart, which caught the stewards’ attention. Osborne then began piling the pressure on Adam, who had taken brand new tyres at the stop. Adam held on for two laps until the Pirellis started to bite, and from then on the race as a contest was over as Adam thrived on the fresh rubber and pulled a comfortable gap.
Morris deposed Babini, and soon latched on to Osborne for second. The older BMW struggled to hold off the thundering Bentley on the straights, but Osborne defended superbly. His job was made easier when the race was stopped 20 minutes early when Luke Davenport’s Ginetta G55 GT3 pulled off the track with flames licking around it.
“I was actually glad to see the red flags,” said Osborne. “I could only see us going backwards as the Bentley was just too quick on the straights for us.”
Sadly it wasn’t to last as Osborne was pinged post-race for passing Babini under yellows and penalised 10 seconds, dropping the car to fourth.
While an inherited second was a good result for Parfitt and Morris, the Bentley perhaps deserved more. “We can’t help but feel a bit robbed,” added
Morris. “But if you’d offered us pole and second before the start of the weekend we’d have taken it.”
But nothing could take the shine off Adam and Johnston’s weekend. “The car just felt great and the team called it perfectly,” said Adam. “Taking new tyres was a bit of a gamble on the stop, but it was totally the right decision once they came in. To be honest I didn’t even know I was in the lead when I came out of the pits after all of the Code 80 confusion. It’s a great result.”
Griffin/babini inherited third from Mowle/osborne. A superb recovery drive from the Beechdean Motorsport Aston of Andrew Howard and Ross Gunn netted fifth. The car started last as Howard was unable to qualify on Saturday due to his commitments racing in the European Le Mans Series. The second TF Sport Aston of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes completed the top six.
Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson claimed the GT4 race victory for Optimum Motorsport after guiding their Ginetta to a comfortable victory.
The pair initially had a great fight on their hands, but troubles for their rivals helped the duo get well clear following the pit window.
Johnson/robinson had to play second best to the Century Motorsport crew of Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke in qualifying after Freke pulled out a wonder lap late in the session. “I don’t know how we did the time,” he said. “We perhaps ran the car a bit too marginal on fuel and when you get a fuel surge the ECU cuts all the power, so it was stuttering around Druids, but somehow held together.”
Given her lack of leading races at this level, Walewska did an admirable job in the opening stages, but couldn’t hold off Johnson, who vaulted ahead on lap two and began to forge a gap as Walewska headed a tight train for second involving Jack Bartholomew’s Aston and William Phillips’ Ginetta.
Bartholomew jumped ahead to chase Johnson just before the Code 80 was called, but unknowingly lost a lot of time during the caution, which left Robinson well clear after he’d taken over the lead car.
“I stuck to 80km/h, but I’m not sure the entire gird understood the new rule,” said Johnson. “Other cars behind didn’t go as quickly as they should and I found myself with a big gap and was wondering where everyone had gone. I won’t complain as it made it comfortable for us.”
Bartholomew handed over to Jordan Albert in second place, but a skip through the Paddock Hill gravel when racing resumed dropped the Beechdean Vantage down to fifth at the flag.
That opened the door for Freke to shine in the closing stages, and he quickly worked his way into a secure second place ahead of Jordan Stilp, who had taken over the G55 from Phillips, and Jamie Chadwick/matthew George’s Generation AMR Vantage. ■
Parfitt led most of the race in ‘Geoffrey’ GT3
Adam/johnston (left) kept it clean and snatched victory for TF team
Johnson and Robinson pulled clear to snatch GT4 victory in Ginetta